Career Explorations: Healthcare Investing, Missing Microbes, NYGC and Industry

What brought the NIH OxCam/Wellcome Trust Scholars to New York City this September? With a coveted invite to the Lasker Awards on Friday, September 21st, the Alliance hosted six students for the week leading up to their awards attendance on Friday. This experience started off with educational and social events, focusing on developing and educating them on their career paths. This initiative was created to expose scholars to a variety a career options as well as providing the opportunity to conduct formal presentations on their research. The scholars attending these special events included Megan Ansbro, Brian Caffrey, Justin Demmerle, Joseph McAbee, Juan Pablo Ruiz and Lynda Truong who are all in the final stage of gaining their PhDs, with some returning to medical school shortly to finish their MD. The Alliance organized field trips that focused on academia, industry, investing, and medicine.

We kickstarted the trip on Wednesday, September 19th with a visit to PointState Capital to meet Dr. Kenan Turnacioglu. Dr. Turnacioglu is responsible for portfolio management of healthcare investments at PointState. Dr. Turnacioglu graduated from Rutgers University with a B.A. in History and Biology, and obtained a PhD from University of Pennsylvania in Cell and Molecular Biology. Thereafter, Dr. Turnacioglu conducted postdoctoral work in pancreatic cancer at Johns Hopkins Medical Center. 

During his PhD, Turnacioglu learned important skills which accelerated his career in healthcare investing. These skills included critical thinking and problem solving, as well as collecting and analyzing data. Because there are not many people in investing that hold PhD’s, Dr. Turnacioglu described how it was useful and unique, especially in his own career path. Dr. Turnacioglu provided the scholars with a look at the day-to-day activities of PointState. He also discussed how an internship during the PhD would be extremely valuable and would provide the tools and experience necessary to determine if a career in investing would be right for the scholars.  

Our next visit was to see Dr. Martin Blaser, who warmly welcomed the scholars to his historic home at the Washington Mews. He spent time getting to know everyone by learning about their background and interests, as well as their research projects. Dr. Blaser is a physician and microbiologist who has published extensively on how changes in the human microbiome impact the development of several of the illnesses that have increased in recent years, including esophageal diseases, obesity, diabetes, and asthma. His work over thirty years focused on particular organisms, including Campylobacter species and Helicobacter pylori, which also are model systems for understanding the interactions of residential bacteria with their human hosts. He was elected to the National Academy of Medicine and the American Academy for Arts and Sciences. He holds twenty-five U.S. patents relating to his research and has authored over 530 original articles.

Dr. Blaser’s career path excited the scholars and they were fascinated by the journey and decisions he made which led him to where he is today. The majority of time the scholars spent with Dr. Blaser focused on antibiotic resistance, discussing which socioeconomic groups where most are affected and why, along with how he is trying to combat this soon-to-be epidemic. The scholars learned about the importance of microbial diversity and how society is slowly losing the microbiome because of antibiotics. The scholars also loved discussing Dr. Blaser’s book Missing Microbes. They were able to get their book copies signed and could not be more excited to read it when they returned home. 

Following our educational events, the scholars then attended dinner at Gallow Green and saw Sleep No More, an interactive play based on Macbeth at the McKittrick Hotel.

After a walk through Washington Square Park, the group found themselves at the New York Genome Center (NYGC). Alliance Director Emeritus Dr. Harold Varmus (also a Lasker and Nobel Laureate) invited the scholars to tour the NYGC. Dr. Nicolas Robine, a member of the faculty who works on their cancer initiative, showed the scholars the laboratories and brought them to see the high-tech sequencers to learn about how they sequence high throughput human data. They learned about how the NYGC was founded and how it functions as a collaboration between major institutions in New York City and Long Island. 

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Bright and early the next morning, the scholars visited Regeneron Pharmaceuticals to learn about biomedical research careers in industry. The day at Regeneron included an overview of the company, tour of the facilities, scientific presentations by their staff scientists and presentations made by the scholars about their research projects. NIH Gates-Cambridge Scholar Joseph McAbee said, “I really enjoyed the tour of Regeneron and hearing from some of the leaders from various departments and learning about what they are working on and so indirectly learning about career opportunities.”

NIH Gates-Cambridge Scholar Megan Ansbro said, “At Regeneron I thought it was very nice that they encouraged post-docs who matched some of our research interests to join us for the day. I also enjoyed learning about their post-doc program – which sounds unique and very cool! And finally, I liked learning about all of the genome projects they’re doing at the Regeneron Genetics Center.” NIH Wellcome Trust Scholar Brian Caffrey also commented on how much he enjoyed getting a feel for the work they did and how they “streamlined the velocimouse system,” which he found to be very cool! 

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Later that evening, the Scholars were the guests of honor at a cocktail reception held in the home of Alliance board member Ann W. Jackson. Guests included individuals representing science, business, academia, private industry, philanthropy, and the Lasker Foundation and their 2018 essay contest winners, as well as New York City area alumni of the NIH OxCam program. 

We gratefully thank Dr. Turnacioglu, Dr. Blaser, Dr. Varmus, Dr. Robine and staff at the New York Genome Center, Dr. Yancopoulos and his colleagues at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, along with the supporters of the International Biomedical Research Alliance for their contributions to the experiences and events that provided an invaluable visit to New York for the Scholars.